In this day and age, no business can function without being connected to the internet. Likewise, the modern worker needs to be able to access information and communicate with others at the drop of a hat, which is why a reliable wireless network is essential.
However, setting up a wireless network in the office is much different from doing so at home. After all, businesses need their wireless connection to cover a much larger area and support many more devices. Not to mention that the performance needs to be impeccable since any downtime can cost the company big time in both revenue and productivity.
The following guide is designed to help business owners understand what hardware is necessary for their wireless network.
What An Enterprise Wi-Fi Setup Looks Like
Everyone knows what a basic Wi-Fi setup looks like. Generally speaking, there’s only one access point and a few connected devices. Anyone with a password can connect to the network, and the network devices, such as the router and modem, typically become obsolete after a few years.
An enterprise-level Wi-Fi setup looks quite different. It must be designed for high-density Wi-Fi use and support many network devices. Not only does network equipment need to run all day, but it also needs to be configurable and scalable.
As such, an enterprise Wi-Fi setup is way more complex than a typical at-home Wi-Fi network. For instance, an enterprise Wi-Fi setup will need:
- Multiple Access Points: In any business setting (office, warehouse, hotel, hospital, etc.) , it's likely that you may have anywhere from one to thousands of access points. They are most effective when you place them in accordance with the instructions from a professional wireless network survey.
- Network Switch: A PoE switch will normally deliver the connection to the access points; however, some access points can be “meshed” together without an ethernet cable back to the switch. This option will save you money on cabling, however, you will see better performance by wiring each access point back to a switch port. Make sure you are using a switch that has enough PoE power budget to deliver power to your access points. Firewalls/Routers: All data should pass through a firewall (on-premise or virtual) to keep your data safe and secure.
Consider Your Preferred Internet Service Provider
Your internet service is just as important as the hardware you use to set up your wireless connection. You'll want to compare the different internet service providers (ISP) in your area and speak with a representative to see what they offer regarding speeds and reliability.
You'll also want to ensure that the service provider you choose is compatible with your hardware and can sustain the network strength your business requires. The following are some of the common types of internet services that are available:
- Fiber: Fiber optic circuits are the fastest and most reliable of all options, however usually the most expensive. Most fiber circuits are built for business use, and typically have a better SLA than DSL or Cable (copper) options if problems arise.
- Cable: Cable internet is a coaxial cable delivered by your local cable company ISP.. Cable internet can reach speeds of up to 1Gbps (and beyond soon), making it the best value for most businesses. However, consistent speeds can be unreliable, as it is a shared connection with others in your building or area.
- Satellite: Satellite internet uses a satellite dish on your roof’s building to connect to the internet. It is not very popular for businesses, but expect that to change over time with the introduction to Starlink internet. Satellite internet is a great option (and sometimes the only option) in areas where other types of internet are commonly not.
However, this connection can be unreliable and is often more expensive than other types of internet.
- DSL: Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) is a type of internet that also uses a telephone line to connect to the internet. However, unlike dial-up, DSL can reach speeds of up to 100Mbps. This connection is the slowest available to most areas, and in some areas, it's the only option still more reliable than dial-up, but can still be slower than other types of internet.
- 5G And 4G: 5G and 4G are types of wireless internet that use cell towers to connect to the internet. Currently, this is an expensive option, and it normally is capped by the amount of data that you can consume. Expect that to change as time goes on.
Used primarily for a backup internet solution, it can be used where other options are not available as well.
Factor In Your Network Range Requirements
When setting up a wireless network, it's essential to consider the range you need. The range is the distance that the signal can travel from the access point to the end-point device (such as a laptop, tablet, phone, etc).
The following are some factors that can affect the range of your wireless network:
- The Type Of Equipment You Use: The type of access points you use can affect the range of your wireless network. For example, WiFi 6 and WiFi 7 access points have a different range than older access points.
- The Number Of Walls and Obstacles: The number of walls between the access point and devices connected to the network can also affect the range. Each wall can reduce the signal strength by up to 50%
- The Type Of Construction: The type of construction materials used in the walls can also affect the range. Metal and concrete can generally block the signal more than drywall.
- Mounting options/heights: Mounting the router or access point at a higher height can help increase the range of your wireless network. This is because they spread their strongest signals downwards.
You can even mount your access points on the ceiling; however, it's usually best to ensure they're all mounted at the same height to help ensure the best coverage.
- Antenna options: The type of antennas you use can also affect the range of your wireless network. For example, an omnichannel antenna has a shorter range, but it provides a wider coverage area. While a directional antenna has a longer range, but it only provides coverage in one direction.
You will need to test the equipment in your environment to ensure that your wireless network has the range you need. If there are many obstructions, you may need to use a combination of different access points, antennas, along with specific power and channel settings to get the results you are looking for.
Performing a wireless site survey can help you determine the range of your existing wireless network or help you identify potential obstructions.
Prioritize Security Above Everything Else
When setting up a wireless network, security should be your top priority. Wireless networks are susceptible to attacks from hackers who can gain access to your network and data.
Businesses tend to be particularly at risk because they often have sensitive data that hackers can exploit. Not to mention that if you experience a data breach, it can cost your business a lot of money in damages and reputation.
To protect your network, you should use encryption and a firewall at the very least. Encryption will scramble the data sent over the network so that devices can only decrypt it with the proper key.
A firewall will block unauthorized traffic from accessing your network or not allow certain traffic out of your network in most simplest terms. Enterprise grade wireless access points may have some security built in as well.
IT professionals can help business owners set up a secure wireless network. They can choose the right equipment and configure it properly to ensure the network is secure. They can also help business owners create a security policy to protect their data.
Additional Hardware Requirements For A Business’ Wireless Network
A business Wi-Fi network requires more specialized equipment for management and security than a typical residential network. This should come as no surprise considering the number of users and devices that need to be supported, not to mention that sensitive data is often transmitted over these networks. Up-time is key for any business network, without any dead spots.
Therefore, in addition to the items listed above, a business Wi-Fi network will need:
Multiple Access Points
An access point connects wireless devices to a wired network. One or two access points are typically all that is needed for residential networks. But for a business Wi-Fi network, multiple access points are often required to provide coverage for a large area including multiple floors and buildings across the same network
Not only that, but each access point needs to be correctly configured and managed. Doing so can be a daunting task for businesses that don't have dedicated IT staff, which is why many of them outsource this work to managed service providers.
On-Premises and Cloud-Managed WLAN
A wireless local area network (WLAN) controller is a device that manages wireless access points. A business Wi-Fi network may need either on-premises or cloud-managed WLAN controllers to manage all of the access points.
The on-premises controller will be responsible for local management only, while the cloud-based controller will normally accomplish the same or more - including providing remote management and offer more features, such as the ability to scale the network and add more access points as needed at multiple locations at once without the additional cost of hardware controllers at each site
Power Over Ethernet
Power over Ethernet (PoE) is a technology that allows power to be delivered over a standard Ethernet cable. PoE switches are the industry standard for deploying a wireless network and useful for businesses that want to deploy access points in difficult-to-reach places to put electrical outlets everywhere, such as on the ceiling. There are niches in the construction industry that cater to these type of set-ups.
The advantage of using PoE is that it eliminates the need to run separate power outlets by an access point, thereby saving time and money. Using PoE (or even PoE injectors) normally far outweighs the cost of electricians, and it’s normally just not practical to put outlets everywhere. Some deployments may have thousands of APs.
As mentioned earlier, a firewall in its most basic form, is a device that blocks unauthorized traffic from accessing your network. For example, a business Wi-Fi network will need a firewall to protect it from network attacks. The firewall can be either hardware or software, but it's essential to have one in place to safeguard your data.
Business firewalls differ from a residential firewall in that they offer more features, such as the ability to create multiple security zones and control traffic between them. Next-Generation firewalls stop the latest security threats. If there is an existing firewall in the network, and it is over 5 years old, it is most likely outdated and needs to be replaced to keep up with important security features.
A network switch is a device that connects devices on a network. For example, a business Wi-Fi network will need a network switch to connect all of the AP’s you deploy. You will need to properly configure the switch to work with the other devices on the network.
Building A Secure Wireless Network Doesn’t Have To Be A Complex Process
At first glance, the amount of hardware needed to set up an effective and secure wireless network might seem complex. However, it doesn't have to be. Understanding each hardware component and what it does will simplify things a bit.
Additionally, getting help from a professional to set up and manage your business’ Wi-Fi network will also make things much easier. Here at Hummingbird Networks, we can build a wireless network that meets your specific needs, ensuring that things run smoothly and that your data remains secure.
Having WiFi problems? We can help you assess your WiFi environment!